Cranking out a film every year, Allen is arguably still in love with filmmaking, yet it feels somehow like he's fallen out of love with the characters he creates. For all the shortcomings and neuroses of Alvy Singer and Isaac Davis, they possessed a charm that somehow redeemed them for the film's duration. Tall Dark Stranger presents a varied cast of characters, too many of whom are difficult to latch on to or empathise with. That said, the sparkling Allen dialogue is present and he's still able to bring fine performances out of his cast. This is a quick, undemanding watch but hardly one for the ages.
Allen has two surrogates in Tall Dark Stranger: Anthony Hopkins's aging rich Londoner Alfie Shebritch and frustrated novelist Roy Channing (Josh Brolin). Alfie has recently split from his wife of several decades Helena (Gemma Jones) and remarried the much-younger "actress" Charmaine (Lucy Punch), while Roy's marriage to Sally (Naomi Watts) is crumbling as he wrestles with his unfinished book and gazes longingly at his beautiful neighbour Dia (Freida Pinto). Sally, meanwhile, considers an affair with her smooth art dealer boss Greg (Antonio Banderas). Helena, Sally's mother, seeks solace by throwing her money at fortune teller Cristal (Pauline Collins). These complicated characters in search of something to fill a gaping void make up the cut and thrust of Tall Dark Stranger, which sees Hopkins, Watts and Jones shine amid Allen's sharp repartee.
It's British actress Punch, though, as the call girl who steals Alfie's heart, who walks away with the movie. Just as she reinvigorates her new husband, she too gives Allen's story a shot in the arm, bringing laughs and just the right amount of smut into every scene she's in. Being the best thing in Dinner For Schmucks is one thing, doing it for Woody Allen is something else entirely. It's baffling to think that her role was once earmarked for the cool, detached Nicole Kidman.
As Tall Dark Stranger draws to a close, the fate of its characters is left dangling. Roy has found himself embroiled in intellectual property theft, Sally has had an almighty bust-up with her mother (Watts is terrific in this scene) and Alfie has doubts that he's the father of Charmaine's child. It's Helena, however, who find love with a stranger - an occult book shop owner (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) not of the tall, dark variety. For Woody Allen fans this film will just about do the job, for everyone else... this reviewer is not so sure.
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